New museum exhibit honors Shinseki
By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer
By William Cole
Retired Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, ever the dutiful soldier, not the policymaker or Iraq war commentator, yesterday attended the opening of a new gallery at the U.S. Army Museum of Hawai'i dedicated to his 38-year Army career.
The former Army chief of staff from Kaua'i deflected the praise — and questions about his 2003 statement before Congress estimating that "several hundred thousand soldiers" would probably be needed for the post-war occupation of Iraq.
"This is really a story of an American soldier and an immigrant family's journey in this country," Shinseki, 63, said of the new gallery at Fort DeRussy. "So, I hope people will see it less as one person's accomplishment and more as an American story about immigration in this country and what hard work and education can provide."
At least six retired high-ranking generals have publically criticized the management of the Iraq war, but Shinseki has not.
He said he feels no vindication of his pre-war troop strength assessment, which many view as an accurate reflection of what was needed in Iraq.
"There's no vindication — not when young soldiers are in harm's way," the four-star general said. "I don't think much about (the February 2003 assessment). I look at the hard work they are doing and I'm very proud of them. I was asked a question and I gave the best military judgment that I could provide."
Shinseki said there are probably things he would have done differently during his tenure. He retired in 2003 after butting heads with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his replacement was named 14 months before his term would end.
"I've chosen not to comment publicly about what's going on (in Iraq)," he said. "There are folks that have those responsibilities, they are the ones that make the decisions and have to explain themselves."
Shinseki, who now lives in northern Virginia, had parents "who were very much caught up trying to establish themselves professionally." He grew up with his grandparents in the Japanese section of a plantation community on Kaua'i, he said in a video that plays in the new gallery.
An exhibit dedicated to Shinseki, the first Hawai'i native and first Asian-American to attain the rank of four-star general, was opened at the Fort DeRussy museum in Waikiki in 2004.
The updated koa-lined gallery dedicated yesterday is twice as large and includes a full-dress four-star uniform, awards from foreign governments, and pictures from his days at the United States Military Academy, his Vietnam duty and as the highest ranking soldier to wear the Army uniform.
He was injured three times in Vietnam. In April 1966, shrapnel from a mortar round hit him in the shoulder and chest along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Five months later, he broke an arm and his jaw in a helicopter crash. In April 1970, while on his second tour, then Capt. Shinseki lost his right forefoot when he stepped on a mine in tall grass.
As Army chief of staff, Shinseki led the service during the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, advocated the black berets that soldiers wear today and championed the Stryker armored vehicles that have become a "medium-weight" force between tanks and infantry.
Maj. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, the commander of the 25th Infantry Division who is deploying with 7,000 Hawai'i soldiers to Iraq, said Shinseki "epitomized and personified the quiet, thoughtful warrior — reluctant to speak of himself."
Mixon said Shinseki's trademark self-introduction — "My name is Shinseki and I am a soldier" — made him realize the Army chief of staff was a soldier first, "and I can't tell you how much that meant to all of us in the field."
Shinseki said the generals who have criticized the management of the Iraq war "are retirees — they have a right to their opinions. I chose not to do that, as you know. While they (officers) are on active duty, they have an oath to abide by."
In an April 24 Newsweek article, Shinseki came closest to commenting on the running of the war.
He said yesterday he talked to Newsweek because it was readying to run a story saying that classmates at the 40th reunion of the class of 1965 at West Point were wearing caps with "RIC WAS RIGHT."
"I did see one hat, but it wasn't like the class of '65 showing up at its reunion wearing these baseball hats," he said.
Newsweek said some critics argued that Shinseki should have pushed harder to stop Rumsfeld from going into Iraq with too few troops, and asked for a response.
"Probably that's fair. Not my style," the soldier was quoted by the magazine as saying.
Reach William Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org.